Assessment Aftermath

Putting skills into practice with a group a year on from Assessment

Sitting in the office for the past couple of days, I have gone from one extreme to another. The hardest thing about coming back from mountain ventures is the way that life goes on as if nothing has happened. People seem oblivious to where you have been and what you have been doing, which is understandable. The struggle to stay safe and sound on mountains set against the unconscious, onwards march of those left behind is truly incongruous. I am not saying this is wrong – when you do not know, you do not care, or have no need to – but just peculiar. I almost feel as if I should be lauded on returning, but ultimately I go to difficult places not for anyone else, but for the satisfaction of overcoming personal challenges.

Anyway, on assessment last week there were many extremes: a high attrition rate of personnel meant that out of 12 people, three dropped out – one a day for the first three days! Of the remainder, there were six passes and three deferrals (two for night navigation, one for insufficient logbook experience (myself)). There was a day of lovely sunshine, but also a night of windswept snow and sleet. As we strolled to the end of the assessment past St. Olaf’s Chapel, it struck me that it was fitting that we had been based in Wasdale: the valley with deepest lake, smallest church, biggest liar and highest mountain. Indeed, we climbed Scafell Pike on the penultimate day of the expedition, but unfortunately took a torturous, scree-filled path up from Cam Spout.

The cross-section of people was much different to the training, being on the older side, which meant a commensurately greater amount of experience. This was hardly surprising, given the advised 60 Quality Mountain Days for assessment, but it was also quite amusing. The eclectic nature of the group meant there was a split between those of around-, or post-, university age and then a large majority of near retirement age. Some had apparently left the assessment a little late in life for the sake of experience and sadly did struggle. One of the highlights, though, was listening to the accumulated knowledge of David in our group, who had acted as technical advisor on the recent BBC Wainwright Walks, presented by Julia Bradbury.

In the same way as the last course, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring new areas of the fells, which routinely get overlooked for the more popular, higher hills. The areas of Birker and Ulpha Fells and Eskdale Fell, though, are bursting with interest and well worth visiting for the hidden cols, ridges and knolls in their midst. They are, of course, perfect places to practise navigation, and if you really want to test yourself or practise for assessment, you would be well advised avoiding the tourist routes. Birker and Ulpha, for example, contain complex mountain terrain, for which trudges up Helvellyn and Scafell Pike are no match! Upper Eskdale is also an incredibly broody place in low cloud, and the black crags, imaginatively named Sampson’s Stones and enigmatic Great Moss made our short foray there very atmospheric.

As mentioned, I came away with a deferred pass on condition that I accumulate ten more quality mountain days. At least five of these need to be in Scotland, which is honestly a joy to my heart! I have wanted to climb Munros for many years now, planning unfulfilled expeditions to the Arrochar Alps at university, and this is the perfect excuse to realise those plans. Alternatively, I might steal a week on Skye in the summer, but this is to be confirmed – route choice would be the primary difficulty given the amount of bare rock in the Cuillins…

As a side note, my Softie Osprey 12 sleeping bag unfortunately proved itself rather inadequate on the assessment expedition after many years faithful service and I am also on the market for a solo mountain tent. The Scarp 1 has firmly caught my eye, but we will see how it goes in both departments.

There should be more to come at the end of April when Jon and I next hoping to get out and about.


2 Responses to Assessment Aftermath

  1. Your post reminded me when I did the same thing. It's funny how you get so focused on it and then it stops and you return to the world as it just kept going. A bit like waking up after jet lag.

  2. Pingback: Matt Heffer, MIC « When Men And Mountains Meet

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